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Body image 'a burning and complex issue' for young people

A new report says body image has a major influence on a teenager’s mental health.

Image: Geoff Kirby/Press Association Images

CHILDREN’S MINISTER FRANCES Fitzgerald is to launch new research on the importance of body image to a teenager’s mental health this morning.

The Dáil na nÓg report, ‘How we see it: Survey on Young People’s Body Image’, found that three quarters of Ireland’s teenagers rank body image as important to them.

Age and gender are key elements to how this manifests itself in daily life. A negative body image is considerably more prevalent among boys than girls.

Although two out of every three participants said they are fairly or very satisfied with their body image, there were a number of negatives that emerged from other questions. Over 50 per cent of the more than 2,000 people questioned said their body image interferes with participation in certain activities, including swimming, dating and putting photographs on Facebook.

According to the report’s authors, positive body image declines rapidly throughout the adolescent years with 15-year-olds being the least satisfied with their body image.

More than half of all the young people surveyed say that comparing themselves with others impacts negatively on their body image. For girls, comparisons are the most negative influence. However, for boys, bullying overtakes that and is ranked as the most negative influence.

About six in ten teenagers say they feel pressurised to look good for other people – again this is something more common among girls than boys.

Positive body image is higher among boys at every age but the research highlighted instances of excessive exercise and use of body-building supplements among about 15 per cent of respondents.

A vast majority (97 per cent) do some type of exercise, and activity and sports were cited as most important in supporting positive body image. Twice as many girls as boys exercised to control their weight, with four times as many males as females using it to build muscle.

“Put simply, girls want to be thinner, boys want to be more muscular, and both genders struggle to meet these idealised standards, while their body image suffers from the failure of these attempts,” concluded the report.

A number of recommendations were made by participants with many highlighting the role of schools in providing information. Teenagers also looked for schools to be more body image-friendly by incorporating it into the mainstream curriculum, making sports more exciting and varied, having regular talks on personal development and providing health food options in canteens and vending machines.

Fitzgerald said the report, which was conducted by young people, marks an important milestone in giving teenagers a voice on matters that affect their lives.

She added that she was looking forward to working with Government in addressing the issues highlighted in the study as it has given “new insights into how teenagers perceive themselves in an area of critical importance to their mental health”.

Download the full report here>

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